Last year I wrote my mixed reviews about the American way of Christmas. I am at it again! Really, like so many of us as believers in Christ, we hate the greed, the secularism and the bastardazation of what should be “our party.” No one messes with Ramadan or Hanukkah, so why do we let the pagans have our Christmas? I think I have found out why.
A brief historical review of the December 25th date will be enlightening to some. It was not until the late 4th Century that the Christian church adopted December 25th as Christ’s birthday. As the Roman Catholic Church advanced throughout Europe it came up against pagan culture everywhere it went. It was so then, it is so today. One of the pagan customs of times was the week long celebration of Saturnalia, associated with the shortened days of the winter solstice. As a more primitive Europe saw the Sun disappearing there arose the dancing, singing, drunkenness and such to ask the sun to return. In addition to this Saturnalia celebration, there was celebrated the December 25th birthday of Mithra-the Sun god of the Roman army.
About 387 AD, the Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, pronounced in a Christmas sermon that the Eastern Church would officially celebrate December 25th as Christ’s birthday. This date was the final day of Saturnalia. It seems both the Roman Church and the Eastern Church decided that, “If you cannot defeat them, then join them!” That is exactly what they did! They “baptized” Mithra (symbolically speaking) and turned the SUN-god into the Son of God!! Nice trick if you can get away with it.
Bad Idea or Not?
So, in an attempt to reach out to the pagans of the Roman Empire, church leaders chose December 25th, the climax of a pagan holiday. Did the idea work? Well, actually it did for centuries. Ask yourself, “How many folks you know have any idea about Saturnalia?” Not one in a thousand do. Yet, Christmas on December 25th has carried the day these many years becoming worldwide. Wherever the Gospel has gone-it takes Christmas with it. I want you to think about this for a minute. We took a pagan holiday and Christianized it. We evangelized it. Yes we did, but not without some serious compromises.
Festival or Worship?
The tension down through the ages has been to get the paganism out of Christmas… Even as Christ became the focus of December 25th, right alongside him stayed pagan practices and customs. Christmas has never been JUST about Jesus, he has shared his birthday with others like Santa Claus, Reindeer, Rudolph, and Santa’s elves. Once the practice of gift giving was a nice tradition, associated with the gift God gave us in His Son. However, when American capitalism got serious about Christmas giving, greed and marketing took over.
Who’s the Evangelist?
Folks, the tables are turned on us. Just as the church stole Saturnalia, so the pagans have stolen Christmas. Wall Street, post-modernism, and secular humanists have removed Jesus from His own birthday party, just as the Roman Church removed Mithra. In the place of the Christ-Mass (original name) is Season’s greetings, happy holidays, and Black Friday. They have won! They re-evangelized Christmas.
Stay tuned in for Part 2…